Building Bhakashal - Alignment, Factions and Play
When I was considering the aspects of AD&D I wanted to keep for Bhakashal I spent a lot of time looking at alignment. Alignment in 1st Edition serves some important in game purposes, and used as designed, can work well.
However, few people tend to use it as designed, which suggests it was either too complex, or wasn’t meeting a need at the table. I decided to strip the concept back to its minimal origins, to take only one part of the alignment system, and build off of that, rather than the whole metaphysical framework of alignment absolutes, actual planes for individual alignments, that sort of thing.
To start, I looked at Gygax’s core concept for alignment
I think this is a great foundation for alignment in the game, it is NOT deterministic, not biological, it is cultural, and it is not a driver of behavior, it is an aggregate descriptor of it. Character behavior determines alignment, not the other way around. Alignment does not determine religious beliefs either, that’s a big difference.
Alignment serves as a tool for the ref to help them organize the game world. That’s the sense of alignment I want for Bhakashal.
Alignment in Bhakashal is no longer individual, individuals do not have an alignment, organizations, institutions and communities, or in game parlance factions, have alignments, and these are used to organize the factions into, “mutually acceptable, or at least non-hostile divisions”.
Bhakashal - Alignment Rules
Alignments apply to institutions and groups, also known as factions, for example, in Bhakashal every Noble House, Guild, etc., has an alignment
Lawful factions prioritize and reward groups and cooperation, chaotic factions prioritize and reward individuals and independence.
Good factions behave altruistically and avoid harming others wherever possible
Evil factions will harm to achieve their goals and are fundamentally selfish, note that this assumes nothing about why the faction behaves selfishly
Alignment is broad, e.g. two people can agree that a law is needed but have two different views of what that law should be. Violent disagreement is still possible between factions with identical alignments, cooperation and mutual aid is still possible between factions with opposed alignments
Individuals have no alignment, but all creatures in the game (including PCs) have a factional alignment listed, the alignment of the faction that is the most influential for them. Certain classes also restrict membership based on behaviour (e.g. justiciars do not have a listed alignment, but are expected to uphold the law in their actions)
The listed alignment for any monster/NPC is a loose role playing guide, that is how the monster/NPC’s dominant faction generally acts, individual actions can be as complex as desired. It is a role playing cue, not a restriction. All NPCs / PCs / Monsters / Animals have a faction that is the most influential on them, but most belong to more than one faction. The one listed is just the most influential
Any spell or magic item effects based on alignment are now based on purpose, e.g. protection from evil is “protective circle” and hedges any extraplanar or summoned beings, a Mace of Disruption destroys undead or priests of gods of death, anyone not committed to the destruction of undead takes harm while holding it, etc.
The gods have no alignment, they are mercurial, obscure and enigmatic
People pray to specific gods based on their “sphere of influence”, so a kind, altruistic person can pray to a god of death or revenge
Factions (Institutions/groups) have alignments, but individual members of those factions do not. The point of the alignment system is to situate the factions in relation to each other, not the individuals.
Individual monsters don’t have alignments on this system, but organized groups of monsters do. Where you see a listed alignment for a monster, say a chaotic evil red dragon, read that as most collectives of red dragons (e.g. a family, a mated pair) behave, as a group, in an individualistic and selfish way. So this means that, for example, as a default, a pair of red dragons wouldn’t coordinate attacks well, are open to bribery or flattery, etc. so the ref can decide if they want to run this particular red dragon pair as typical or not, maybe choosing “not” gives them a good encounter idea.
For individual monsters use alignment as a LOOSE GUIDE of monster behavior. As a group red dragons will behave in a generally selfish and individualistic way, but that’s just the group, the referee can run individuals in any way desired, or decide this group is different, and once the encounter starts the monster’s behavior should be dictated by the encounter reaction table or the circumstances. Think of alignment for monsters as a source of gentle role playing guidance.
One might object, “well, why will adventurers go out and adventure now, when there is no evil to slay”? The dragon keeps eating the fine people of Rivenstar, taking their livestock, tearing apart their soldiers, that hasn’t changed. So there will always be heroic tasks to undertake.
For NPCs, it is a similar thing. An individual blacksmith has no specific alignment, but the guild she works with has one.
Keep in mind, NPCs will be part of multiple factions, a blacksmith could also be a member of the town watch, a religious movement, or a member of a secret organization. So for the purposes of simplification, use alignment to guide NPC behavior by assuming that one of the factions to which they belong has the primary influence on the NPC.
In essence, NPCs and PCs who behave in a way contiguous with the alignment of their institution will find it easy to progress within the institution. So if some NPC has “lawful neutral” listed for their primary institution’s alignment, they will tend towards cooperation, group focus and are not likely to be too helpful or deliberately harmful as their primary group behaves that way, more or less. It’s an easy to remember default, but you can veer away from it and build that into the story.
The ref can use this as a guide to role playing the NPC, and even spin adventures out of it. So say the party goes to the blacksmith, and say the blacksmith’s guild is listed as “Lawful Good” organization. When the party arrives and tells their story (Brama’s armor was damaged fighting off that dragon that attacked the town last week), a positive reaction roll is interpreted as the blacksmith doing the job for free, to thank the PCs for saving the town (a lawful and good act), a negative reaction roll that calls for a mild response might be interpreted as the blacksmith thinking the party was actually in league with the dragon, and extending the conversation and ask questions to see if her hunch is correct. In this case the alignment of the blacksmith’s dominant group, lawful and good, influences the behavior to be group focused and altruistic.
For NPCs list the alignment of their most relevant institution, and then list the institution, which will give you a small role playing cue in addition to the group/individual, selfish/altruistic axis. So for example, you roll a random city encounter for the party, it lists a merchant, Lawful Evil (Thieves’ Guild). The RP prompt is that this guy is a merchant, but also working with the Thieves Guild, so maybe he’s a fence, or a money launderer, or a front, or a source of funding for jobs, etc. This also tells you something about the local guild, it is focused on the group and cooperation but selfish. You could make the merchant a reluctant partner that works with the guild as they have proven relatively trustworthy.
Another encounter with a farmer listed as Neutral Good (Temple of Oghma) is more willing to help out the cash strapped party if they agree to do work for the Temple, or for him, in return.
The guidelines for NPCs / Monsters are straightforward, check their listed alignment/institution, and use that as a potential role playing guide for any encounters, knowing that it is just the default, and the individual NPC/Monster can act in any way deemed appropriate by the ref.
Scaling it Up
Bhakashal is also a setting of warring Noble Houses, competing factions between the temples, the military, the Houses, the coven, the bureaucracy and the Guilds. Alignment gives the ref a simple tool to help organize these factions. I considered giving each Noble House a history and a list of “rival and friendly Houses” with rationales, but then thought the better of it.
Instead, alignment works as a proxy here, similarly aligned Houses will generally get along, Houses of opposing alignments will tend to conflict, all by degrees. There can be NPCs in lawful Houses that are extremely individualistic, there can be NPCs in chaotic Houses who are very rule following and group focused. The point is to capture the aggregate actions of the faction, not the details. A lawful good House will pursue group priorities and do so as altruistically as possible most of the time.
All Noble Houses are listed with an alignment, as well as the other institutions within the city.
So for example, there are two Noble Houses in Bhakashal, House Himmenghost and House Viinos, House Himmenghost is LE and House Viinos is LG. When running the game, the alignment of these Houses can be used to help structure the environment and their interactions.
So there could be a rivalry between these two houses based on their alignment differences, both are lawful, so they focus on groups over individuals, but one House (Himmenghost) is more willing to allow other groups / individuals to suffer to achieve their goals, whereas the other House (Viinos) tries to achieve their goals through mutual cooperation and benefit.
Chaotic Noble Houses allow individuals a lot of freedom to break the rules to achieve House goals, Lawful Noble houses focus on rules and working within the system. There can be rule breakers in Lawful Houses, and rules followers in Chaotic Houses, but they will be aligned against their Houses, picture the individualist within a Lawful organization, always aligned against it, but working from within to “better” it. A chaotic individual in a lawful organization can rise to the top and gain power, but they will always be aligned against the institution, often fighting for their power. A LG NPC in a LG organization will find they fit in well, and don’t have to fight the organization or the majority of those within in order to rise in ranks, but individuals within the organization can oppose them.
Rather than set specific historical relations between Houses (which would have been interesting but highly time consuming) the alignment system gives the ref a shorthand for framing the relationship between Houses. If the PCs show up at the arena to see an honor duel between rival houses, the ref can pick two houses with opposed alignments and use that opposition to create a quick backstory for the rivalry. Since House Kesht is Lawful Neutral and House Ain is Chaotic Good, perhaps the Lord from House Kesht had publicly accused House Ain as hunters from House Ain have been hunting on House Kesht’s territory (something a Chaotic House would “look the other way” about, and a Lawful House would call out), and a Lord from House Ain challenged that Lord from House Kesht to an honor duel to defend his house (something a Chaotic House would favor, an individual Lord stepping up to action).
A set of minimalistic role playing cues are all that is needed to support ongoing game play. Class, factional alignment, secondary skill and playable group are a broad base from which to get an idea of the character, game play fleshes that out well. Alignment also serves to provide a quick tool to sort out the various factions in the setting without constructing a vast history to organize them. Alignment of Houses and factions will similarly figure into the repute system in Bhakashal, providing reaction modifiers based on the alignments of the individual’s dominant institutions.
One final word, a chaotic evil organization isn’t one devoted to stereotypically evil behavior, e.g. a chaotic evil House in Bhakashal doesn’t have necromancers stealing babies and plans for world domination. A chaotic evil House in Bhakashal is focused on individuals over groups (so it might support a rogue Lord from a rival House) and is willing to break rules and harm other groups to achieve their ends (e.g. breaking a deal with another House) but they don’t have to be perpetrators of horrific acts. They just have to be generally chaotic (prioritizing their House over all others) and evil (willing to do harm to achieve House goals).
Evil and good, chaos and law, alignment here anchors them in behavior, actions, not intentions or anything existential or biological or essential.